Yandex Launches Voice-Powered 'Wonder' Search App, Amazon Buys Its Siri

Russian-based search engine Yandex this morning released a new mobile app called "Wonder." It's currently only available for the US market and right now only on iOS. It uses speech recognition from Nuance and social data from Facebook, Instagram, Foursquare and Twitter to provide search results refracted through social networks.

The kinds of queries Wonder envisions are those such as "tech news stories liked by my friends" or "restaurants near me visited by my friends." The app can only be used in landscape mode. It offers a visually polished UI but generally poor search and user experience (it would be better on the iPad). Unless there are some dramatic changes it won't be widely adopted by consumers. 

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Indeed, Wonder is no substitute for Google or Yelp or Facebook's new local and general search capabilities. What's interesting and significant is that it does illustrate broader adoption of social data as a filter and mechanism to personalize search results. The app is also consistent with the embrace of voice as a primary UI and capability.

Wonder offers a hint of a personality there but it's not a full blown "assistant" like Siri or Speaktoit. However Amazon's acquisition of text-to-speech specialist Ivona is a move to bring a Siri-like assistant feature to Amazon's Kindle tablet devices. (Amazon previously purchased speech provider Yap.)

Amazon already had text-to-speech for Kindle but Ivona offers a smoother, human-sounding voice capability that can be deployed for a range of purposes and use cases. And like Wonder it reflects the degree to which speech has become a critical "must-have" function on mobile devices.

By itself, however, speech is not enough. Increasingly there must also be a "personality" (assistant) to go along with the raw speech-processing capability. This is the impact of Siri on the broader marketplace. 

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My colleague Dan Miller brings a different perspective to the Ivona acquisition. He sees it in the larger context of speech-industry consolidation.

Update: TechCrunch says that Facebook has blocked Wonder's access to its user data while the companies negotiate about access.